‘From Johnny to Jack’ was electric.
Very few people in Australia would be unfamiliar with the King of Aussie Pop, John Farnham. But in the tribute show, ‘From Johnny to Jack’, long-time fans will learn something new. With a career spanning over 50 years, it was always going to be a challenge to do Farnham’s catalogue justice in a few hours, but creators Luke Kennedy and Naomi Price have managed to find the perfect balance in their latest production.
Part-rock concert and part-theatre, ‘From Johnny To Jack’ mixes storytelling, anecdotes and rocking hits, with vocals by Luke Kennedy and music by his top-notch five-piece band. The performance followed the early beginnings of Farnham’s career – from the unprecedented success of ‘Sadie (The Cleaning Lady)’ in the late 1960s to the record-breaking album ‘Whispering Jack’ of 1986.
The band – including Stefanie Jones (vocals, keys, violin), Stephen Ward (vocals, guitars), Michael Manikus (vocals, piano), Mik Easterman (drums) and Scott French (bass) – opened the evening with a traditional theatre overture of some of Farnham’s best-loved tunes, like ‘Playing to Win’, amping up the audience in preparation for the show. As the hits reached a crescendo, Kennedy, burst on stage singing the iconic tune ‘One’, sporting a blazer and bowtie in a nod to Farnham’s early years. It was immediately clear that Kennedy had studied Farnham’s performance and vocal mannerisms to the point that the audience could easily imagine the legend himself was right in front of them.
Kennedy’s charm and ease on stage was warm and humorous and the show moved at a good pace, balancing stories and songs beautifully. The raised, proscenium stage gave the performers the space to rock out and there was never a dead area of the stage. Every element was used effectively.
VIP patrons were placed in cabaret-style seating at the front of the theatre, while the remainder of the audience viewed the performance from the tiered seating bank. Kennedy embodied the rockstar persona and moved throughout the audience during the first act, even stopping to give one lucky audience member a personal serenade.
It was perhaps surprising for many fans in the audience to learn that there was a substantial lull in Farnham’s career during the late 1970s – to the point where he nearly gave away his music. Farnham tried his hand at theatre, starring in productions of ‘Charlie Girl’ and ‘Pippin’, however, his music career remained at a standstill. ‘From Johnny to Jack’ presented a collection of songs from this period during Act 1, ending just as Farnham’s journey began to make a change for the better. The audience learnt that it was through Farnham’s eternal optimism, the support of his equally hopeful wife, Jillian, and the reconnection with friend Glenn Wheatley that “Johnny” was left behind and a new chapter was born. This moment was perfectly represented through the simple symbolism of Kennedy removing his jacket and bowtie.
Act 2 opened with the electrifying ‘Playing To Win’, introducing the audience to Farnham’s connection with the ‘Little River Band’, during the early 1980s. Kennedy returned to the stage in a denim jacket and white t-shirt, representing the 1980s era of Farnham’s career.
A brilliant medley of hits from the ‘Little River Band’ had the audience’s feet tapping and accelerated the energy from the first act. Hit after hit was presented by the performers with precision and energy until we were brought to the showstopper number, ‘You’re The Voice’. At this point, the show had morphed into something resembling a pub choir, with the audience joining Kennedy in full voice for Farnham’s most iconic tune. Kennedy then returned for a soulful rendition of ‘Burn For You’ as an encore. Just when the crowd thought the night was over, the band kicked into full swing, and the audience was gifted with an epic medley of more of Farnham’s hits.
The technical team at Logan Entertainment Centre did a splendid job of supporting the production. The lighting design by Sam Gibb similarly walked the line between concert and theatrical performance, with plenty of haze, spots, colours and cross-fades to match the emotion and intensity of each number. All aspects of the band were balanced and managed expertly and the sound was well-delivered by sound designer Jamie Taylor.
Kennedy and Price have found a comfortable niche in their creation of ‘From Johnny to Jack’. While this was not a tribute show in the traditional sense, Kennedy’s vocal range and acting prowess allowed him to do justice to the iconic works of ‘The Voice. Kennedy embodied Farnham through the way he held the microphone, used his vibrato, and captured the feeling and power within the songs we all know and love. Kennedy not only displayed his incredible vocal skill but created an energetic and entertaining evening that will surely keep the audience singing long after they left the theatre.
For more information about productions by The Little Red Company, visit their website.